Here’s Ask The Agent for this week. With Fab agent Elaine Spencer from The Knight Agency. Take it away Elaine…“Can you discuss the genres you represent? (Feel free to talk about your current clients and/or fave reads if applicable) Are you looking for anything in particular and/or what’s on your wish list?”
As most readers of this blog are probably aware, the Knight Agency is largely for its representation in the women’s fiction and romance genre. Consequently a strong percentage of my current client list falls under this umbrella. Romance is such a fun genre, and there are so many different sub-categories its hard to easily describe my tastes. I would say that the voice and the writing are far more important elements to me than the actual “theme” or sub-genre. I don’t typically do anything that is extremely erotic and I don’t go too far into the sci-fi/fantasy realm. Those are my basic limitations, there are other things I won’t be as eager to look at, such as a Western, but I have to be honest, crazier things have happened. I have a client who is working on the most amazing biblical fiction novel right now, I could not have imagined how much I would enjoy it. Its been amazing to be a part of and I’m so excited about getting to shop it soon.
In general TKA doesn’t do any screenplays, poetry, short stories or children’s books. I myself am not looking for any real dark horror.
I would love to find a great sweeping historical, an amazingly character driven women’s fiction, a brilliant original contemporary, a charming and fresh “chick-lit” type story (key word, FRESH!!). Characters are big to me, big, big, big! I love those characters that you just feel like you know right from the get-go. I have seen some really compelling inspirational titles and some brilliant multi-cultural work. I’m game for any of these.
I also am open to paranormals, typically I’m more drawn to the lighter side of things, such as my client Candace Havens who writes really quirky heroines that just happen to be touched by the paranormal. Or Melissa Mayhue, who has the most charming “Daughters of the Glen” series, the covers alone speak volumes about my kind of taste. I’m not however saying I wouldn’t be open to something darker, I think the *right* dark paranormal just hasn’t hit my desk.
I also represent some really exciting young adult titles. I would love to find some more high concept stories in this realm. I love reading stories aimed at the teen audience, the emotions are just so raw and point on, and the cross-over appeal is just huge right now. I’m totally open to that. Another of my clients, Linda Gerber, has a great new thriller-mystery series out for teens, that is the epitome of fun, DEATH BY BIKINI; check it out its a great example of why I love young adult novels. For YA I’m wide open, there is so much potential in this market, I want to see it all.
You know, like I said, keep in mind the rules of writing. Tell me a great story with great characters, a great voice, a great plot, and you’ll be on your way. Fingers crossed for finding some great stuff in SF!Thanks so much. As always please post your questions in the comment section. Ask the Agent will be on break next week as Elaine and I will be be in San Francisco for the RWA National Conference. We hope to come back with all sorts of fun things to share.Best,Kwana
What’s Jack up to? He’s all feisty and barking at me this morning because I’m not getting his food to him fast enough. The nerve. Is he learning from the Dear Twins?
Ask The Agent is coming soon. Sorry for the delay. Check back later. In the meantime…
- For a bit of a change this week. Elaine, fab agent from The Knight Agency, is giving some conference advice in honor of RWA Nationals coming up. I decided to put up a pic of one of our first conference meetings. Without further chat from me here’s Elaine…As RWA nationals hurl towards us at lightening speed I thought today I would talk about conference etiquette. Hopefully I can share some advice that will answer a lot of peoples questions about what is and what isn’t ok to do at one of these events and help you make 2008’s national conference your best yet.
We all know what its like to watch a golden opportunity pass by because we were unsure if our intentions would be well received. Only then, when the moment is gone does the fog clear and we say “if only I had . . . “. Conferences are a breeding ground for this type of regret. The anticipation of being surrounded by so many published authors, agents, editors, and industry professionals leads to a build-up of expectations and also nerves that can be our own worst enemy when faced with a situation that can ultimately change our career.
I know that for many of you reading this post, attending any conference means having to take vacation from other jobs, make family sacrifices, and spend a substantial sum of money all in an effort to take your writing career to the next level. For all of us industry professionals one of our goals is to help you make the most of these investments. So, with that being said I want everyone to remember these brief pointers – seriously, if you keep these SIMPLE things in your head you will definitely walk away from the conference without any hesitation towards saying “Now that was worth it”!
*I have said this before on this blog, and on many other blogs, and on many panels and in many interviews,* but still, it can never be said too many times – “Agents are just people!” Let me tell you folks, when we step on an elevator and we see people drop their eyes and go quiet, we notice. We can feel the awkwardness that oozes off situations when people are essentially afraid to talk to us. And guess what? It makes us feel just as awkward. I wake up every morning and brush my teeth, and drink my coffee and read the paper just like you. Don’t EVER hesitate to acknowledge us with the same common courtesy that you would any other conference attendee. We will not be walking around the Marriot just waiting to breathe fire at the casual passer-byer who politely says hello as they pass. We will not pull out our “blacklist” for the person who makes small talk during the ridiculous line outside of the coffee shop. And we certainly won’t call NYC and have it posted in Times Square if you dare enter the restroom at the same time as us. Just act normal!
The conference is a time when we are all focused on the business of publishing and the craft of writing, but remember, this is not all there is to life. We all know that its not always appropriate to pitch your book i.e. that moment you enter the bathroom at the same time. However, it is appropriate to groan about the fact that every one of the soap dispensers is empty. It is not important if I catch your name or what you write during these casual encounters, what is important is that when another instance presents itself that DOES lend itself to pitching I’m going to remember your friendly face. I’m going to think to myself “Oh I remember them, they were so lovely back there”, and that is going to make me want to stop and learn more about you as an author. Its a chain reaction. Conferences are great because we are all co-existing, there are hundreds of opportunities to build up a “rapport” that can come back later and really work to your advantage when the time is right.
So what about the not so casual encounters? What about those moments that you *really* want to talk to someone about your novel? When is this ok? Well – building off of the “we are people” mantra use your people skills and some common sense. Realize that at these events we have meetings scheduled one after another. Your best opportunities are going to be after a panel or a session when the hosts are standing around the room waiting to talk to the audience. But remember, be receptive and don’t take it personally if the agent is running off to another meeting and seems harried. If you see an agent sitting alone casually approach them and see how the mood “feels” – if they are open to chatting you will know pretty quickly. Sometimes in my down-time I like to just walk around and feel the vibe and energy that is associated with the conference. I am up for meeting new people and often when someone approaches me I’ll pull them over to the side and have a great conversation. However sometimes I need a few minutes for just me, to collect my thoughts and prepare for my next event, in these cases my stare is a little blank and my responses are pretty clipped, if someone keeps saying “I need to go”, wrap up your conversation. Read the signs and you’ll be fine! If I represent your best friend or critique partner ask them if they can introduce us at the literacy signing or during the keynote luncheon. When possible I try to attend the publisher signings and spotlights, if you see me browsing around casually say hi!
And now the negatives, a few things that are never appropriate. (And yes, I know these may seem obvious but yet I’m never surprised). Do NOT try to force material on me, or hand me your sample pages at any point during the conference. This is NEVER a good idea, nor will it ever be; Instead ask if you can query me following the conference. Do NOT ever feel the need to open up a conversation with “Hi, you rejected me six months ago”. What good is this ever going to serve, really? It only makes the conversation awkward from the get-go. Be mindful of what you say, where, and to whom. Seriously, voices carry and we all have ears, no one ever looks good in the process of smearing someone else. One would be shocked at how much gossip is casually “overheard” in the shared spaces of the event. Do not ever interrupt me when I am in the middle of a sit-down meeting. Period. Do not stop me if I am obviously running through the lobby, I’m probably already late and I don’t want to be forced to be rude to get away. And lastly, (and no I’m not kidding), no knocking or slipping things under my hotel room door, its happened before and its never ok. Its creepy. See? These are easy enough rules. If you avoid those major traps I think you are off to a great start and our encounters will be positive!
Remember, we are going to meet hundreds (literally) of new faces while we are out in California, in addition to the hundreds of familiar ones that we have existing relationships with. Its a whirlwind week and the chances of having an earth-shattering moment that is going to sky-rocket you to the NYT list by January is one in a million. Be smart about how to use the conference to your advantage. Attend panels, spotlights and sessions where you can learn more about your craft and how your manuscript realistically fits into the market. Have it in your head that you would like to meet 3-5 people who you can hopefully send material to after the closing remarks on Sunday. During the course of the event take advantage of the small opportunities and remember usually the opportunity to expand your network will be more valuable than the elusive request for a partial. You will be light-years ahead of the competition just by showing that you are another confidant and professional participant in our industry.Thanks so much Elaine! Now don’t forget to post your questions. We really need them to keep Ask The Agent going.Best,KwanaP.S. Scroll down for more of my silly thoughts for the day. Have a great one and a wonderful weekend!
- What’s Jack up to? He’s happy it’s Friday and ready for a fun filled day of play and bouncing around. Slow down Jack. It’s still way early.
Here’s this week’s Ask the Agent post with fab agent Elaine Spencer from The Knight Agency. Today she’s talking film rights! Very Interesting.
Will a literary agent be more likely to gain a movie option for me than my small publisher?
A lot of authors have a lot of questions about film rights. Typically we find that these sub rights are an area where many authors have unrealistic expectations and misconceptions. A forewarning, my answer to this question is going to sound pessimistic. Unfortunately I feel this is a case where regardless of the pleasantness of the truth its something that needs to be said.
It often seems that authors fall into the trap of believing if their manuscript has the stuff to be turned into a novel, then naturally that novel would also make a great movie. This is just not the case.To begin to understand why this is, one needs to have an in-depth understanding of the film business. While the ins and outs are far too complicated for me to explain here, (and in all honesty much more all-encompassing than I even understand) the best way to explain it is that it is a VERY different market than the publishing business. People need to remember that as with any differing markets the needs and demands for each are separate and unique to their own individual market. Its absurd to assume that what works with one is naturally going to work for the other.Plain and simple, you might in fact have the best book in the world, but unless the specifics of your story perfectly align with the needs of a production company, it is going to be a one in a million shot that you will find someone who is going to invest the time and money in making your book come to life.Books are unique in the fact that a large part of what makes them special is the individual voice and style that a reader finds as they travel the pages. We’ve heard it before, but its nearly impossible to find a “new story” – most novels these days are in some form or another the retelling of a formula that has been done before. It is the new tone and style that the author weaves into the pages that make it a new story. To translate that tone and voice off of the page and onto the screen is a very difficult task, so while something may feel magical on paper, when it goes “live” it may instead end up feeling very “done”.As to the specifics of your question, is an agent more likely to find you a deal than a small publisher. That depends on the agent I suppose. I can tell you that the Knight Agency (as similar with many other comparable literary agencies) is not looking to take on “film rights” to a project that has already been published. I can also tell you that when we are looking to sign on a new client, the salability of film rights associated with a prospective clients’ projects are far down the list of things we are concerned about. We are a literary agency and so our number one concern is the literary rights.Keeping that in mind, I don’t want to give off the false impression that we don’t work the film rights on behalf of our clients. We do, and we have seen great success in the sale of several notable projects this year alone. However, we do this in association with a film-agent. We know that we don’t know the film market as well as a film-agent will, so we pair ourselves with partners that become advocates on behalf of our clients interests in the film/TV industry.Whenever we are negotiating a book contract we try in as many instances as possible to retain the film rights for a project. We believe that we will in fact be more aggressive of these sub-rights than the publisher simply because we have an invested interest in the overall career growth of our authors on a more one-on-one basis than many publishers do. (And I’m not saying that publishers aren’t interested in film rights, I’m just asserting that a publisher’s number one concern is selling a profitable book).So in the case that we retain the rights, we then put together a film-rights list that we will in turn offer to a variety of film agents of varying specialties. Out of these rights, after having been reviewed, film agents typically are only interested in seeing @20% of the projects we offer to them. Again this is because they are using their expertise and they know that the project isn’t going to be sale-able to a production company (much in the same regard that literary agents only take on a small portion of projects pitched to them, believing that they will be unable to find an editor interested in buying the others). A film agent may fall in love with a book, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be able to sell the rights. You know how editors have standard rejections such as “I just didn’t fall in love”? Well In many cases film agents have these same response, the projects they see are too “soft” or lack the “high-concept” demanded by the film industry’s needs.Here it is also important that film agents, regardless of their specialty are going to be more inclined to look at a certain type of story. It is nearly impossible to sell the film rights to a straight Romance. And a thriller has to be amazingly different to stand out from the thousands of other thriller movies that have already been made. While this is frustrating it only makes sense when you really think about it. To write a good book it is important that authors follow certain conventions and rules, these rules and conventions then in turn work against you in the film business, hence the whole other business of “screen-writing” and the ability to use different rules.So in conclusion and in summary; Can an agent sell your rights more effectively than a small press? Probably. But I’m only saying this because I’m betting your small press most likely doesn’t have a very expansive department working your film rights as it wouldn’t be a profitable venture. Most importantly; Can an agent sell your film rights? Probably not, and if that is what is most important to you, perhaps you should re-evaluate the field you are writing in.So there it is. Thanks so much to Elaine. Please post your questions and comments in the comment section and we’ll see you next week.Best,Kwana
What’s Jack up to? Just chillin’ by the grill today for the 4th of July BBQ! We hope you have a great July 4th. Stay cool!! Jack will.
Since it’s the holiday today we’re talking a break from Ask The Agent. Fab Agent and I will be back next week. Have a wonderful holiday weekend. Enjoy yourself and have loads of fun.Enjoy your Independence!
How much do I love this movie?! Wayyy too much.
If you missed any past Ask the Agent posts please click on the Ask the Agent label to the right or below to read the old posts. They are great. Elaine gives loads of insight into the agent’s mind.
If a manuscript is queried as belonging to one genre, but after reading the partial, you feel it belongs to another, what would you do?
This is something that actually happens more often than one would think. One big piece of advice I give to writers who ask me about query letters is to make sure they are familiar with what they are writing. This also ties directly into being familiar with the market that you are writing in.
The short answer to this question is if it is a good story and the writing is strong and sellable I don’t care if it was “mislabeled” – “I’ll say to the writer, hey you may think you have that, but in fact you have this, now here’s what we can do with it to get it sold!”
Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to mention several of the ways authors shoot themselves in the foot by not knowing what they write. They have a great story but they send it to an agent that doesn’t represent the genre that the story falls in. They pitch it to an editor who falls in love with it but isn’t able to acquire a manuscript that is outside of their line. In both instances not only is the author wasting valuable time, but they are perhaps ruining their chances with someone else in an agency/house that may be the perfect candidate to acquire the project.
Also, if one doesn’t know the real genre that their story fits in how can they be aware of the market demands for that genre? Yes, it is true that everyday someone says “bring us something fresh and different”, however, it has to fit within certain parameters to be able to market the title correctly to an interested audience. ::And here I will insert my weekly disclaimer, yes, there are exceptions to everything I’m saying. Please don’t tell me “well I know so and so who sold Title X and it didn’t follow any of the rules”:: It is invaluable for an author to be informed about genre rules: word counts, POV standards, plot structure, primary characters, secondary characters, plots, secondary plots, conflict, etc etc.
Every genre is a little bit different and what works clearly in one does not always work in another. I don’t care how good your paranormal world is, if it takes you 200k words to build there is little I can do to sell it. You may have the best romantic suspense in the world, but if I don’t meet the hero until page 200 its not going to be what the romantic suspense editors are wanting to see.
In light of all these things if I see an author who is blatantly pitching their work as something that its not I will usually point out their error and explain the reasons that I feel it is something else. Then if it is something that I am interested in, I will work with them to get the novel up to the standards of its true market. I will spend time educating and referring the author to sources that will help them understand wherein lies their error and how to correct the problem or avoid it in the future.
As a final thought, and this ties to several of the other questions that I’ve seem posted on the thread and I may go into deeper in a future question. Don’t try to be sneaky. Lets use Chick-lit as an example – If you have a story that is no-questions-asked chick-lit, call it what it is. I know it’s a tough market, but trying to disguise the story as something else isn’t going to make it sell any quicker. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is a duck – you aren’t going to be fooling anyone. Editors and agents read all day, every day in the genres they represent – they are going to know within pages if someone is trying to “trick” them into reading, and they aren’t going to be impressed. As a professional in the industry you are to present your project honestly and accurately.
So take the time to know your stuff, educate yourself on the market, and familiarize yourself with your competition. IF you think you are writing women’s fiction, take some time and read the most praised best women’s fiction writers, read the bestsellers, read what people are saying. Then sit down and honestly look at your work and see if it fits the pattern of all the other examples you are seeing on the shelves
Thanks so much Elaine. Please be sure to post your new questions in the comments section. See ya next week!
PS- Scroll down for more fun.
What’s Jack Up Too? He’s being his wild self, practically taking down the entire porch when a stray cat came wandering around to taunt him and he was leashed to the railing.
See it’s ok for our neighbor’s cat, Marvin, to come wandering around our yard. Jack will take that with a little bark or two, but he’s not taking any mess from Bum Cat, as our other neighbor , N, affectionately named the stray cat yesterday.
I have a feeling, Bum cat is not a Bum Cat at all but lives on another street. He’s too clean and too well fed to be a true bum cat. He’s actually quite beautiful, all black with white feet and a bit of white on his ears and tail. Kristian you’d love him. I’ll try and snap and pic of him one day.
Ask the Agent will be coming soon. Sorry for the delay. Fab agent is busy making major deals. But in the meantime please enjoy this clip which I just saw recently courtesy of youtube and one of my fab agency sistahs. Thanks Leigh! Let’s all hope to never have an agent like this one.
- What’s Jack up to? He’s happy it’s Friday and he’s not a stinky dog anymore since he’s bath yesterday. Yay!Welcome to another Ask The Agent with fab agent Elaine Spencer form The Knight Agency. This week’ s question is a great. Props to Elaine for taking it on. Let’s just get right into it.I’m wondering when an author should start looking for a new agent. Is two months too long to wait for a read-through of minor rewrites?
I think that you probably know in your heart what the answer to this question is, and really this is something that only *you* can have the definite answer on because you are the only one that really knows all the important info. If you really don’t know what you should be considering the best I can do is offer some pointers that might show you the light. And here’s my disclaimer, I’m an agent, I’m going to automatically give yours the benefit of the doubt, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I would love to say be super-agent and jump in and say “Its taken them TWO WHOLE MONTHS??!?! That’s ridiculous, you deserve a read within the week, that’s what I promise all of my clients!!!”. However, and Kwana can vouch for me, that would be a total lie. When I receive client material what I do try to do is immediately give them an estimate of how long it might take me to take a look at their work. Sometimes I’m able to stick to that deadline, and sometimes life happens and what once seemed very possible becomes utterly impossible.
Two months does seem a little bit lengthy but in the defense of the agent here are the things that I would consider “get out of jail” tickets that you should cut them a break. Is this your spotlight project or is it just something minor you’ve been stewing up in the back of your mind, a “pet project”, which is in addition to other work you have submitted. How many times has the agent seen this material? Is this your first set of rewrites or your 3rd. Have you heard from your agent during those two months with an update on where you are in their reading pile and what might be the hold-up? Does your agent want to shop this project or have they already told you that deep in their heart they don’t feel like this is “the one”. Is there a market for this project or is it something that is going to be a REALLY tough sell? How much of the manuscript are they having to re-read and with how watchful of an eye? Did the agent receive 15 full manuscripts the week before you sent yours in (and yes that happens, when it rains, it pours!)?
If the agent is unresponsive and takes two months to respond to you on anything, always, regardless of circumstances, well yes, I think its time you look around. It is important that you have someone in your corner who is going to be respectful of your time and your goals for progressing forward.
I’m going to add my own little disclaimer in here, just because I think *good* agents often can catch a bad rep for things that are really outside of their control. As I mentioned above, life happens, and we have learned to always expect the unexpected. This past spring my career has been on a whirlwind ride. Its been fun and exciting and promising for the future, but for a brief time my clients have had to bear with me while I’ve just been treading water and trying to squeeze it all done into a day (and night’s) work.
Times like this ebb and flow. At the end of the day even if my responses haven’t been quite as quick or quite as detailed as they typically are, my clients know that I totally adore each of them and their writing. If not, I would have cut them loose when the going got tough. They also know that while I may temporarily be in a position where I can’t get them an instantaneous answer on anything they send material or question wise, I without a doubt would drop anything in a second if anything really important would come up.
It is an agent’s job to be available for anything at anytime, it comes with the territory and we all know it. And deep down, whether we will all admit it or not, everyone of us loves that about the job, or we wouldn’t be in agents. Still, at the end of the day we are all people, and sometimes we deserve a break just like everyone else. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew, sometimes we find ourselves in time crunches, and sometimes we just can’t do it all.
There have to be cut-backs somewhere, sometimes we just have to put one thing aside, ask yourself, has your agent sacrificed your best interest or is this issue really insignificant in the grand scheme of your career.
The ultimate answer to your question lies in whether you have tried talking to your agent about what the hold-up is. Have you voiced your concerns that you aren’t getting the attention that you feel you deserve? If not, let them know you feel like you’ve been abandoned, that you are concerned about their dedication. Talk it out and see if their response is something you think is fair and justifiable. If it is, stick with them, give them one more chance, if they tell you “they’re just too busy, maybe they’ll be able to get to it next month” then perhaps you consider your other options.
And on second thought. I hope I didn’t interpret that question wrong. It just dawned on me and I thought in my own head, “maybe they were referring specifically to the submission process, as in the agent isn’t really “theirs” just one they have submitted to and the agent requested rewrites.”
If that’s the case, well shoot, lets make this short and sweet. After two months? Yes, move on. Don’t count the agent out yet, because sometimes as I said, things come up and we can’t move as quickly on non-client material as we wish we could (and sometimes we consequently miss out when the author does in fact go wider).
If the agent thinks they have it on exclusive shoot them an email and let them know you are going to submit to others and let them know when you receive alternative offers. Regardless, keep your options open!How often do you update your clients on the submission process? Do you prefer email or phone for doing so? Just curious….
This one is easy. I update my clients on the submission process the instant that I have anything to report. If we are at the beginning of the submission, just preparing to send out, I will let them know who I’m planning to target. I usually ask if they have anything big to add, sometimes if they have some valid point I’ll take their suggestions and other times I follow what I know is best and stick with my selection.
After the send-out I let them know who accepts and who declines (hopefully no one to the latter!). I then update them when I’m doing follow-ups and as soon as I hear from anyone. If its an offer, well then obviously, we discuss pros/cons (if any) and move forward). If it’s a pass I forward the response word for word on directly.
Sometimes this is via the phone sometimes via email sometimes via snail mail. That varies depending on circumstance.
Told you it was a good one. Don’t forget to post your questions in the comments section.Thanks Elaine!best,Kwana
- What’s Jack up to? Just being Jack on this fine spring day. He’s checking out the scenery and seeing what sort of trouble he can get into.
Welcome to ask the agent for this week with Fab agent Elaine Spencer from The Knight Agency. Thanks for joining us again this week . Here goes…
I’m curious as to what makes a manuscript you like turn into a “pass” instead of asking the author to rework the whatever portions don’t quite click with you?
This was a left over question from an answer that I gave last week and I thought it really had some merit so I figured I would revisit.
The above situation always involves a gamble, usually one on a couple of different levels. When I’m reading a partial (or a full) I have to give it my own personal rating system. If it’s something I’m enjoying and I see potential in and I think to myself “ok, so you like this, now how much do you like it”. I start to weight the merits of the manuscript on every level from the page that it hooks me forward. I look at the quality of the idea, the development of the plot, the evolution of the characters, the authenticity and readability to the voice, the world, the strength of the writing, the skill of the story-teller, and the list goes on and on and on . . .
Then I stop and I look at my pros and cons. When I start to realize that yes there are a lot of things I really like, but also there are a lot of cons, that is when your question really comes into play.
I stop and evaluate these cons and try to figure out if they are all related to one another. I try to figure out if we can go in and fix this and that, or if once we do that it’s going to be like a giant thread and once you tug, the entire story will unravel. I look at what these fixes will take. I try to figure out if it’s something simple like working on a certain writing “tick” or if it’s something greater that shows the author just isn’t there quite yet in their potential.
When I have a story that I really love but isn’t quite there I always strike up a dialogue with the author in question. I figure out where they are in their querying process and where they are in their writing career. If they have another idea that they are working on I’ll take a look at that too to see exactly how much I love the writing of the author.
Basically I try to figure out how serious the errors are in a partial. If they are substantial but fixable I’ll offer suggestions and see how the author does with the editorial process. If they are errors that show me the craft just isn’t there yet, there is no amount of revision that can really expedite that process so I will most likely just say, “Until next time, good luck” and pass.
Hope that clears that up.
Thanks Elaine and thanks to everyone for stopping by. Please be sure to post your comments and questions.
Here it is! Your ask the agent question of the week and it’s a goody answered by fab agent, Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency. Thanks again to Elaine.
Have a wonderful week full of many words on the page or am I just projecting now? Sorry.
Now to the question:
What things keep you reading when a requested partial has been submitted to you? What parts of a query letter are most important in your eyes?
This question is actually harder to answer than it sounds. It is so difficult to put into words exactly where the magic happens in either a query or a submission.
I’ll start with a query, since it’s the first piece of the puzzle. What is most important to me is a simple display of competence. I want to see that they have done their homework and are familiar with how a query should be presented and submitted. I want to see quality grammar, solid writing, and fabulous content. I think a lot of people out there think “its just a query letter” and try to short-cut steps or break the rules as a way to stand out. I advise against this.
In regards to query letters, write what everyone tells you to write. Follow the format of the standard three paragraph, introduction, pitch, summary letter. This gets my attention right off the bat by showing me you are a professional and you’re serious about getting a foot in the door.
The only area that you really need to stand out in the query is with the content. While I discourage anyone from deviating from the traditional style I encourage authors to really find away to pitch their novel in a creative way. Pitch us the story in a way that we can’t help but stop and think “that sounds amazing” or “what a brilliant idea”.
Sometimes I request chapters because the heroine sounds like a cool gal, or there is some setting element that really interests me, or the subject matter just sounds ground breaking. Sometimes I request because I’ve just heard a fellow agent or editor say they were really looking for something that this particular query might describe. Sometimes the author seems really qualified and so I assume they are going to bring me a well written sample. On other occasions the author finds a way to infuse their voice and style into the query that make me really compelled to see how it translates over on the written page.
There are a ton of things that make a query stand out and warrant additional material requests. At the end of the day remember that your query is a reflection of your manuscript. Try to keep them on equal footing in terms of tone and appeal.
In terms of a partial, in my eyes I am looking at the material from a totally different angle, so its a very different question, however my ability to pin-point exactly what works is just as difficult.
Again, at the top of my list, the most glaring thing is the quality of the writing. I want to have a sense that I’m working with a professional writer, or at least someone who is pretty darned close. I want to see grammatical competence and a familiarity of what “Publishable” quality writing is.
In many, many instances I start reading and the writing is just not publishable. I can’t tell you how often I stop and scratch my head and think is this author crazy? They have to have an idea that this isn’t yet up to par, so why are they sending it to me? That sounds harsh, but its frustrating how cavalierly many people treat our valuable reading time.
I think that with the ease of email and how accessible many agents are, a real lack of accountability has shot up. In many instances people send off their material at the drop of a dime without proof reading, without editing, without facing the reality that their product is not on any equal footing with the book you would pick up at your local BN.
Yes, I know that titles still have to go through an editorial process, and those folks up in NY etc. certainly do know how to really make a project shine. Still, before an author sends any material off, the submission should be as clean as an author can possibly imagine it being. There should be zero room for improvement.
So, that being said (and boy did I get side-tracked) what makes a submission stand out. Quality writing. A great voice. Opening pages that have a real “hook” in them. A character who instantly is in my head. A setting I automatically start envisioning.
There is something really magical when you have found that special submission and is hard to put into words. You just know. I’m currently reading a submission that I absolutely love. I know I’m not going to take the project on right now because it needs additional work, but still, I LOVE the manuscript. Despite the flaws in the manuscript, the voice and the characters have totally engaged me, I really want to know how to story unfolds. I used the term “compellingly readable” earlier in the week to describe the project.
That’s what the magic is, when we forget that we are reading an unpublished manuscript, whether it be at our desks at 10am or in our beds at 10pm, but yet we can’t put it down. When we get carried away by jaw dropping revelations, heart wrenching character developments, and laugh out loud dialogue we know we have a winner and we can’t help but keep turning the pages.
Now ask away. See you next week for more Ask the Agent!!
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